Testing Testing

Indiana students outscore U.S. peers on national science test, but many still struggle

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder

Indiana students posted slightly higher scores in 2015 on an important national science exam — both compared to their peers across the country and to Indiana students who last took the test in 2009.

On average, fourth- and eighth-graders across the country posted 4-point gains on the 300-point National Assessment of Educational Progress test, administered to a sample of students in most states last year.

Indiana fourth-graders did a bit better on the 2015 NAEP science test compared to the fourth-graders who took it in 2009, scoring six points higher. Last year’s fourth graders also scored, on average, six points higher than the their peers in other states.

Indiana eighth-graders also scored higher than they did in 2009, up four points to 156 and besting the national average of 153.

Read: Indiana rank continues to rise on the national NAEP test in reading and math

Despite the improvement, most Indiana students who took the test still did not meet the exam’s key “proficiency” standard in science, with just 42 percent of fourth-graders and 36 percent of eighth-graders passing that threshold.

High standards have long been characteristic of NAEP, which calls itself the “nation’s report card” because it has long been the only way to compare students across states. Recently, states have cited gaps between NAEP scores and scores on their own tests to toughen their academic standards and exams.

The latest scores come after many states have had new reading and math standards in place and after years of renewed attention to science instruction. Schools and districts across the country have invested in what they are calling STEM education, an acronym that describes a new approach to incorporating science, technology, engineering, and math into the school day.

The U.S. Department of Education has encouraged the shift, launching a program to recruit science teachers and expand computer science instruction.

“The data themselves don’t tell us why we’ve seen these improvements, but we do think investments we’ve made over the past eight years have made a difference,” Education Secretary John King said.

The next phase, King said, is for high schools to add more advanced science and math courses — something that the new federal education law earmarks extra funding for.

“We know from our civil rights data that there many students who attend high schools where you can’t even take Algebra II or physics,” he said.

Some Indiana educators and policymakers have long advocated for giving students expanded access to science, math and applied-science classes.

For example, Indianapolis Public Schools plans to dramatically expand its partnership with Project Lead The Way next year thanks to a $250,000 grant from American Structure Point, an Indianapolis-based engineering firm. Project Lead The Way is an Indianapolis-based nonprofit that develops curriculum for applied science and project-based classes.

“The STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) emphasis is really the 21st century curriculum,” said Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett at an event announcing the grant earlier this year. “This kind of emphasis needs to be made all over Marion County.”

new testing plan

ISTEP panel proposes mostly tweaks after months of work

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Students in IPS School 91's multi-age first-, second- and third-grade classroom work on math activities.

After months of meandering conversation, a state committee charged with finding a replacement for the hated ISTEP exam seems to have fallen short of its goal of revamping the test and instead has only been able to propose minor changes and tweaks.

The new test program endorsed by the state’s ISTEP panel this morning calls for students in grades 3-8 to take one exam in English and math at the end of the year, and for 10th-grade, students would return to taking exams in English, Algebra I and biology at the end of the year. The main differences would be that tests are given in one period, rather than two spread throughout the winter and spring.

“It has been a long and tedious process,” said ISTEP replacement panel Chairwoman Nicole Fama, a principal in Indianapolis Public Schools. “But without everyone’s input and support we wouldn’t be where we are today.” Other panel members include lawmakers, policymakers and educators.

There was no discussion today about the recommendations, crafted mostly over email in the past week.

Read all our coverage of ISTEP and other testing issues here.

Formed by the Indiana General Assembly earlier this year, the panel was asked to address lawmakers’ concerns that ISTEP was not credible and was administered poorly. Members cited lack of public trust in the test and scoring and technical problems that have plagued ISTEP since it was retooled for 2015 to match new, more rigorous state standards.

The panel now suggests that the state consider using off-the-shelf tests or questions rather than create an entirely new test. Using existing questions from outside vendors, which could include Common Core-linked exams, is a cheaper option, and one that lawmakers have indicated they’d support.

That’s a big change from what Indiana lawmakers decided in 2013 and 2014, when they voted overwhelmingly to leave Common Core and its associated PARCC test.

“There’s no question that under current state law we have the flexibility (to use other questions or our own),” said Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, a panel member and leader of the House Education Committee. “You can use other products that are out there. PARCC, Smarter Balanced all are selling bits and pieces.”

Behning also said federal testing requirements could change under the new U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. For example, states might have more freedom to create innovative testing models like New Hampshire’s project-based local exams, which Behning has said he might support. Those tests, however, are expensive to create and take years to develop.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz and Ayana Wilson-Coles, a teacher in Pike Township, were the only two panel members who voted against the plan. Ritz has called for a completely different kind of test that would be given in multiple parts throughout the year and rely heavily on computer-based technology. She says such a test would be more helpful to educators and students.

The committee made no move to address the state’s third grade reading test, which is currently given in addition to ISTEP.

In order to graduate, students would still be expected to pass tests in English and math. The state would, for the first time, pay for students to take a college or a career readiness test, such as the SAT, ACT or military entrance exam.

The recommendations next go to the legislature, which goes into session in January. But lawmakers are not required to follow them. Behning wasn’t specific about how the panel’s work might be used in a future bill.

“We haven’t discussed it,” Behning said. “There’s no question I’ll probably have some language (for a bill), yes, at some point in time.”

Testing Testing

Indianapolis charter high schools rank near the bottom on the 2016 ISTEP

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Find our all our stories and databases on the 2016 ISTEP test results, as well as other testing coverage, here.

Of the Indianapolis public high schools that saw the lowest ISTEP passing rates this year, most were charter schools, including some that were taken over by the state years ago for consistently low test scores.

High schoolers took the ISTEP for the first time last spring rather than subject-specific exams in Algebra I, freshman English and biology. The inaugural high school ISTEP, which was given to 10th-graders in math and English, didn’t go well for many schools across the state. When the results were released last week, only 32.2 percent of Hoosier students passed both exams.

The scores were even lower for some charter high schools in Marion County including Hoosier Academy’s hybrid virtual school. Not a single student passed both exams at the school, where students have the option of working from home or in a school building.

Scores also bottomed out at Carpe Diem Shadeland charter high school, which was temporarily closed in August due to low enrollment. The students were merged with those at Carpe Diem’s Meridian campus. The school was one of three high schools run by the Carpe Diem charter network that ranked among the worst performing high schools in the county.

These are the 10 Marion County public high schools with the lowest ISTEP passing rates. Chalkbeat included demographic information about the schools since research shows that schools with more white and affluent students tend to do better on standardized tests because of biases in the way tests are created and different levels of resources at schools attended by lower-income kids.

Howe High School. This former IPS school has been managed by the Florida-based for-profit Charter Schools USA since the school was taken over by the state in 2012 after years of low test scores. This year, just 5.9 percent of students passed both ISTEP exams.

Demographics:

  • 53.5 black, 31 percent white, 8.2 percent Hispanic, 7.1 percent multiracial
  • Data is not available on the percent of students who qualify for meal assistance.

Carpe Diem Meridian. At this charter school, 5.9 percent of students passed both tests.Demographics:

  • 69.6 percent black, 20.6 percent white, 5.2 percent multiracial, 4.1 percent Hispanic.
  • 69.6 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Arlington High School. This IPS school, which was returned to the district last year after the Tindley charter network declined to continue managing it, saw 5.1 percent of students pass both exams.

Demographics:

  • 86.5 percent black, 7.2 percent Hispanic, 3.7 percent white, 2.6 percent multiracial.
  • 61.2 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

George Washington High School. At this IPS school, 4.9 percent of kids passed the two tests.

Demographics:

  • 34.5 percent black, 32 percent Hispanic, 28.3 percent white, 4.9 multiracial.
  • 71.9 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Carpe Diem Northwest. Only 4.5 percent of students passed the test at this charter high school.

Demographics:

  • 67.2 black, 15.6 Hispanic, 9.4 percent white, 6.3 percent multiracial, 1.6 percent Asian.
  • 84.4 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Northwest High School. The IPS school saw 4.3 percent of students pass both tests.

Demographics:

  • 58.3 percent black, 29.7 percent Hispanic, 6.7 percent white, 2.6 percent Asian, 2.4 percent multiracial.
  • 63 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Manual High School. At this charter high school, which like Howe, has been managed by the Florida-based Charter Schools USA network since it was taken over by the state in 2012, just

3.8 percent of students passed the two exams.

Demographics:

  • 55.3 white, 23.1 black, 12.2 Hispanic, 7.7 multiracial, 1.7 percent Asian.
  • Data is not available on the percent of students who qualify for meal assistance.

John Marshall High School. At this IPS school 2 percent students passed both the two tests.

Demographics:

  • 75.9 percent black, 13.1 percent Hispanic, 8.2 percent white, 2.2 percent multiracial.
  • 65.5 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Hoosier Academy-Indianapolis. At this hybrid virtual charter school, no students passed both ISTEP exams.

Demographics:

  • 72.1 percent white, 20.8 percent black, 3.8 percent multiracial, 1.7 percent Hispanic.
  • 19.6 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Carpe Diem Shadeland. No students passed ISTEP at this charter school, which was closed by the state in August.

Demographics:

  • 73.9 percent black, 15.9 percent white, 4.3 percent multiracial, 2.9 percent Asian, 2.9 percent Hispanic.
  • 81.1 percent percent of students qualify for meal assistance.